Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Cowan’

Andrew Cowan - CrustaceansDownbeat yet quietly passionate eloquence from a man of low self-esteem who is hurting bad makes for an unexpectedly riveting ride in Andrew Cowan‘s novel, Crustaceans (Hodder, 2000).  Three days before Christmas, on the occasion of his son’s sixth birthday Paul is driving through a snow-covered East Anglia to a seaside town where they and his partner had a caravan and happy times.  He’s talking to his son, Euan, though it soon becomes apparent he is not in the car.  He’s telling Euan all about meeting his mother, first as a student then following her to London, and how he came into the world, about his own unhappy childhood, about the remote father he was desperate to be a better father than, about a tragic mother he hardly knew.

Crustaceans is a heartbreaker.  Part of it is a graphic illustration of Philip Larkin‘s This be the verse (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad …” – that one), part of it is about how two people deal with grief and bereavement.  (That’s not much of a giveaway, by the way, from early on).  One is aware of the randomness and contingency that is a part of living a life, throughout.  It’s a slow build to the awful event at the heart of the driver’s pain.  The end might be optimistic, but you can’t rely on it.

Andrew Cowan is a tremendous writer, an English author who I think deserves much greater recognition.  This is a poignant, vivid, and compassionate novel, which, although presented as a first person narrative, is skillfully delivered with detachment.  There is no wastage of words in its 229 (paperback) pages.  There are many haunting passages of both introspective recall and crystal clear physical description.  The picture painted, for example, of the ultimately derelict workshop of Paul’s chain-smoking father – once a successful large form sculptor – the rusted remnants of unfinished pieces, works on both levels.  This is a book of lamenting that sings.  There are no jokes.  Euan collected shells.

Comings and goings

Busy week, week before last.  Farewell to JL, good man of amusing and amused look, of intelligent cheeky grin, mischievous without malice.  Happened at a big North London necropolis – New Southgate – where the funeral trains used to run to from Kings Cross in Victorian times.  God-free, we went in to the Invisible String Band (The half remarkable question) and came out to Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss (I’ll fly away), with contemplative birdsong and Adlestrop in between.  Remembered, as in life, whenever the Ipswich Town result comes up …

Lau-Nov-2015-A6-Tour-Flyer-1-728x1024And so, Monday evening, to The Stables for Lau, a Scottish three-piece folk and sonic exploration band featuring guitar, keyboards (and loops) and incredibly hard-working fiddle.  Booked on the rave recommendations of a couple of friends -“great live” – without having heard anything beyond a couple of doleful YouTube songs, was impressed but not entirely knocked out.

The guitarist had a beautiful Scottish singing voice that I would have liked to have heard more of, and less of the, ahem, descents into ‘sonic exploration’, or what we in older times would call ‘freak outs’.  Which, it has to be said, they did come out of beautifully, while some complex arrangements were delivered with aplomb and the songs were things of beauty.  Martin with left hand working the accordion balanced on his knees and doing all sorts of things with the right, eyes closed as if in sleep, was a sight to behold.  Didn’t realise until going to their website that the percussive workout that he opened with was accomplished with forks and spoons mounted on a board.

After some earlier mutterings about lemon cake they introduced Lal Waterson’s Midnight feast, at which Martin made more mention of lemon drizzle cake.  Can’t remember who said it – might have been himself – but acknowledgment was made of his literal mindedness.  Without missing a beat: “I believe all poetry is basically lying“.  The music was lyrical.  Unlike Mr Hobbs, was glad I went.

Scribal Nov 2015Vaultage early Nov 2015Two bards and a fine band for the November Scribal and a full set of familiar open mic-ers.  Palmerston their usual immaculate playing and harmonies on great original songs.  American influences but a music hall comic’s performance from Peter Ball with I like to drink, staggering up and down the room, sitting on tables, radio mic in hand, not missing a beat, even when helped to his feet by Stony’s slightest of frame ex-Bard.  Another performance of great charm from Morris side concertina-ist who knows how to pick ’em: obscure Lennon/McCartney (as recorded by Billy J.Kramer) and Booby Vee – I’d forgotten all about I’ll keep you satisfied, and The night has a thousand eyes respectively.  At Vaultage later in the week we whistled along to Chris Wesson’s finely crafted pop songs (only one we whistled to, actually, but … poetic license, you get the gist?) and enjoyed some fine Evs and S&G harmonies on some Pocket Full of Peanuts originals.

Die entfuhrungWednesday and it’s pain and longing – off we go to the opera.  But you can’t go wrong with Glyndebourne on Tour and Wolfgang Amadeus.  Mozart‘s Die entfuhrung aus dem Serail aka The abduction from the seraglio[Seraglio, by the way, one of those words you hardly ever find outside of cryptic crosswords].

Great orchestra, a rhythmic score, a good-looking inventive set – what you’d expect.  I’ve no great claim to judge the singing – could have done without the coloratura from the female lead, which remains my problem with opera – but it sounded fine to me, the acting and theatrical ‘business’ up to Glyndebourne’s high standard.  The singer playing the character of Blonde – hooped stockings, cartwheeling in glee at one stage – stole the show in the way that the crude mechanicals make the leads look dull in Shakespeare’s comedies; she was great.  The outcome prescient for these time: the transcendence of old hostilities, a retreat from people ownership, the power of love witnessed to bring on change.

One last thought about opera.  This was one of those where the dialogue is not sung, not delivered in recitative.  I can grant that the arias and all should be sung in the language they’re written for, but if it’s just spoken dialogue, surely a decent translation, rather than the précis translation you see on the text screen, would at the least take nothing away?

Night watchAnother book

I dunno.  Sarah WatersThe night watch (Virago, 2006), 500 pages long in the paperback edition, was short-listed for the Booker and the Orange Prizes, but if it hadn’t been a Book Group book, and the prospect of an interesting discussion, I doubt I’d have got into three figures.  But then I would have missed the best bit, which, with a bit of background thrown in, that would have made a fine novella.  I speak of Julia and Helen’s haunting, lyrical walk one night, at the start of their relationship, through the streets of Holborn and among the damaged old churches of the East End.

Because it’s mostly set in a bombed London in the Second World War, comparisons with Kate Atkinson‘s powerful Life after life were inevitable for me.  While Ursula in that is with a rescue and demolition team, Kate in this is with an ambulance unit that takes over from them at the scene.  Life after life very effectively plays around with time – a snakes and one-step-at-a-time ladders affair that gives the breadth of a variety to the outcomes in the episodes set in the rubble and the ruins – and The night watch‘s chronology is unorthodox too.  Kicking off bleakly in 1947 (the first 169 pages), it goes back to 1944 (the main action – 279 pages), and finishes by briefly revealing how all these stories started (46 pages).   One of the characters says:

‘I go to the cinema […]  Sometimes I sit through the film twice over. Sometimes I go in half-way through, and watch the second half first. I almost prefer them that way – people’s pasts, you know, being so much more interesting than their futures.

Not sure it applies to the novel, though.  With a chronological structure like that, if I’d been really engaged, I’d have expected to want to go back to page one and keenly explore it again in a new light.  Didn’t happen; maybe, I’ll grant, it’s just me.

In The night watch we’re out on the margins, back then in another secret world.  Featuring two women, lesbians, linked over time by a relationship with a woman novelist, a probably homosexual young man in prison.  Also to the fore is his glamour girl sister, obsessed with, getting pregnant by, a married soldier.  With a side cast of a Christian Science medical practitioner, a protective retired prison warder (his relationship with the young man is left ambiguous – to me, anyway), a middle class jack the lad conscientious objector.  All damaged people linked one way or another, with maybe glimmers of personal hope for some at the end (ie. the end of the first section).  “We never seem to love the people we ought to,” one of the women says, from the remains of a bombed house.  The women are finely drawn, but I’m far from convinced by the episode that got the precious young man into prison, though, as I say, another world back then.

I had a problem with some of the prose too.  There’s a lot of blushing, some of the romance strikes me as a bit close to Mills & Boon at times, and the word ‘queer’ seems to innocently, old school, be employed a fair number of times; not sure if that’s meant, and why, or not.  What I said about Andrew Cowan at the top of this piece, not wasting words.  What is one to make of:

  • He was opening the tin of ham as he spoke; turning its key over and over with his great, blunt fingers, producing a line of exposed meat like a thin pink wound. Viv saw Duncan watching; she saw him blink and look away.  [Is that meant to indicate some sort of sensuality?] [27.11.2015: Have to admit after the Book Group discussion there is some relevance to this, harking back to events in 1941, but even then I’m not convinced by the image].
  • cameras flashing “like bombs” [Really?]
  • His nails were cut bluntly, but shone as if polished. [So what?]
  • He went to the armchair and sat down, unfastening the top two buttons of his jacket … [Surely the wrong way round?]
  • A strand or two of tobacco came loose upon Duncan’s tongue … [it’s a problem with roll-ups, true]
  • [and what exactly is meant by …] the empty yet bullying expression of people who have settled down for a night at the cinema …

I’ve got others, all jolly unfair no doubt.  Then there’s:

Julia pulled on a broken stalk. ‘ “Nature triumphant over war”,’ she said, in a wireless voice; for it was the sort of thing that people were always writing about to the radio – the new variety of wildflower they had spotted on the bomb-sites, the new species of bird, all of that – it had got terrible boring.

Now, I would have been interested in that.  Enough.







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At one stage the coffee featured in the making of music

At one stage the coffee featured in the making of music

But first, a musical diversion.  Sunday at The Old George Narius brought his Grammy-winning friend Amrit Sond along to join in the fun.  Narius was his usual smooth accomplished self, with songs from the world over – Brazil, France, Spain, the US – and Mark Knopfler.  Amrit was something else, though.  Hard to explain; ‘fingerstyle’ only scratches the surface.  Freestyle fingers, hands, fists … if he were playing tennis at Wimbledon rather than an acoustic guitar he’d probably be cautioned for racket abuse.  (Poetic license: not that he actually throws it down, hits anything with it or breaks it).  With his hands in unorthodox motion, crossing over one another, dramatically strumming (that  upstroke!), the guitar’s body bought into extensive use as a percussion instrument, his drumstick fingers over the frets – he gets some extraordinary sounds out of his instrument: the full spectrum – tuneful, angular, discordant, delivered with aggression and gentility – and back again.  The 30 second clip on his website gives a rich glimpse of the richness of sound and there is more on YouTube, but try here to see what he does with the coffee).

Anne Tyler - A spool of blue threadAnne Tyler says A spool of blue thread (Chatto, 2015) is her last novel, which is fair enough given the 19 that have gone before.  I’ve read a few of those and like her a lot for the attention to telling detail – emotional as much as anything else – and nary a wasted word.  She gives good nuance.  Picking A spool of blue thread up at the library, the librarian, a Tyler fan, said she was disappointed – going out with a whimper, she said – and much as I’d wished it would, it didn’t grab me enough to drop everything to finish it before the library due date.  This being not so much a fear of fines as the moral issue of other people waiting to read it, so I returned it unfinished, and didn’t avail myself of the offer to be put back on the waiting list.  Other fish to fry, other books to read.  A four generation family story, told or gleaned from legend, out of chronological order.  Kicks with a phone call from the wayward son of  ’60s generation parents who are getting too old for the big old house, which is a big deal in the family history, that they still live in.  As far as I’d read, I couldn’t care that much about what happened to them.  Now it’s made the Booker Long List, so what do I know.  Except, a bit like hay fever, I have good and bad years as far as that prize goes.

Amanda craig - Hearts and minds In the matter of not finishing books, I tend to give up early rather than hold out too many hopes, though I try to do my duty by the Reading Group.  If it hadn’t been this month’s Reading Group book, Amanda Craig‘s Hearts and minds (2009) would have been jettisoned early.  As it was, as the narrative momentum built, and in the end I didn’t resent the Book Group imperative to finish it as much as I thought I would.  But it’s basically crime fiction with knobs on.

Because Hearts and minds does not lack ambition.  She’s shooting for a Dickens, and it certainly starts well enough:

At night, even in these dead months of the year, the city is never wholly dark. Its shadows twitch with a harsh orange light that glows and fades, fades and glows, as the pulse of electric power courses through its body like dreams. The sour air, breathed in and out by eight million lungs, stained by exhaust pipes and strained through ventilators, is never clean. The dust of ages swirls and falls, staining walls, darkening glass, coating surfaces, clogging lungs.

But it’s this ambition that lets it down.  The writing never reaches those heights again.  Hard not to detect a tick box element to both the characters and the newspaper horror story issues they have to deal with, and the way their lives are connected is a trifle contrived, to say the least (I know, Dickens too, and at least there is no shocked revelation of a genealogical kind).

So there’s the murderee, Iryna, illegal immigrant, cleaner and nanny to single mother human rights lawyer Poppy (the only English character); there’s sex slave trafficked Ukrainian teenager Anna (and her Russian gangster pimps); there’s globetrotting South African East End sink school teacher Ian; the noble two jobs Zimbabwean political exile Job (we all liked him); Job’s mate and fellow taxi driver Tariq and his sons, one a jihadist; heart-broken Yank Katie, working at The Rambler, a magazine not a million miles from the Spectator, who might just have an eating problem; and a full supporting cast including an exuberant slob of an Australian and the magazine crowd (doubtless a few in-jokes going on there).

So, London as cosmopolis, then; we get it, but there still seems something missing.  There’s a slightly dubious dramatic climax – at The Rambler‘s celebrated annual party extravaganza – and some heartening things happen to most of the people who deserve good things in the end.

The paperback edition carries loads of review quotes praising Hearts and minds to the skies, but none of our Book Group recognised the masterpiece lauded therein.  I’m afraid she’s no Dickens; the prose is often clumsy, the dialogue a bit stilted.  Would an A&E doctor really say, “It is still under four hours, you know – we are within the national guidelines for A&E“?  (Actually, the health professional in the Group said they might, but I’m not convinced.)  And then there’s this, written from the bloke’s perspective:

All the blood in his body has rushed from his head to his groin, and it hurts. He wants her, she doesn’t want him. It’s like being trapped between an immovable object and an irresistible force.

Which the rock, what the – sorry – hard place.?  He does desist, though elsewhere Polly gets to think, “Underneath, all men are like something from an earlier stage of evolution …” about her screenwriter boyfriend networking at the party.  Enough.

Postscript: Vaguely contemporary London novels that hit the Dickens spot?  I can’t get beyond Zadie Smith (both White teeth and NW) and Michael Moorcock (King of the city, and probably Mother London, though I haven’t read the latter).

Cowan - What I knowMike Hannah, married with two children anti-hero and narrator of Andrew Cowan‘s gripping What I know (2005), is at a pretty complex and crippling stage in his evolution.  Married in his early twenties, he’s just hit 40 and chopped down the leylandii trees planted at the bottom of his garden by the previous owners (there’s a whole other story there too), putting his back out in the process.  Now he can see a young female student in a window in the house behind (nothing prurient on view, mind) and it takes him back to when he was a student (on a creative writing degree course – author Cowan is now Director of the Creative Writing programme at the University of East Anglia), reminding him of soul mate with privileges Sarah, who he has not seen since.

So Mike is now in full-blown, albeit tentative, mid-life crisis mode.  He’s not written anything since uni, but there’s William Brown, a novelist neighbour living nearby, who he pretends not to know too much about, though he quite fancies the writer’s wife while suspecting his wife of plotting an affair with the novelist.  The thing is, Mike is now a professional private investigator with a technological bag of tricks and a lot of his work entailing surveillance from doubting spouses, so he starts employing his work procedures on his own private life.  Furthermore, his moderately successful novelist friend Will has hit a writer’s block and asks Mike if he can tag along in the name of research for his next book, so he starts off by tracing what has happened to old girlfriend Sarah as an example.  Needless to say, it does not go well, though if one is talking of bloodletting it is only metaphorical.

Cowan playfully hints at postmodern fictional games without actually committing them.  So:

Will’s books are not very exciting. His narratives verge on the ‘slow’, even the ‘dangerously slow’. His subject matter is ‘downbeat’ and ‘depressing’. And while his ‘accumulation of minute particulars’ does lend authenticity, it can also become ‘so much clutter on the page, impeding the story.’

It was precisely this ‘accumulation of minute particulars‘ that impressed me as being a feature of his writing in his Worthless men, where the bits I’m usually tempted to speed read – lists of things, even – kept me engaged and added to that (very different) novel’s power.  (Here’s my take on it).  And that holds for What I know.   “Will might well have invented me,” Mike says near the end,

a typical male in the fiction of William Brown is a man struggling against his own mediocrity … short on ambition, but also frustrated by his personal failings, his lack of imagination, his indecision.

Our lives around here are not the stuff of novels, or at least not interesting novels …” says Mike, but – oh you big tease, Andrew Cowan – this here What I know is interesting indeed, getting to the core of a thorny male middle class suburban dilemma.  Which is not as tedious or self-centred as that sounds.  It is satirical in its setting but serious on a personal level to those involved.

Welcome to the neighbourhood, which is fast becoming “the exclusive preserve of the middlingly successful“.  “We are good citizens here.  Our streets are tree-lined and our local park is not often vandalised …“.  “You might call us bourgeois-bohemian, which is to say we are neither“, while “Ours are the privileged children of parents who ‘oppose’ privilege, and while some of us claim to feel guilty about this, we will still pay for them…” to do the extra-curricular things these kids do.

Here’s cheery Mike on marriage: “Every marriage is a mystery.  I wouldn’t be the first to think that, nor to suppose that most are stalked with regret, the melancholy thought of what they are not.”  While he’s sure he and his wife, Jan, still love one another, “It has ceased to be a story” to him, “if it ever was.  There’s little sense of a plot being revealed, of surprises in store …”  At home and work he’s always, he says, “been happy enough.”

But at university he had lived in an activist commune, where, “As a household we objected to most things, but especially money, possessions, careers“:

And though I did sometimes look upon all this as play-acting, mere pretending, I never actually said so […] I still turned out for the protests, the pickets. I did what was expected, and you may even have seen me – distributing leaflets in the town centre, hawking newspapers, rattling buckets – and kept well away. I wouldn’t now blame you, and I cringe to remember all of this. I was twenty years old then, and I wouldn’t want to go back there.

Yet he finds he is now “becoming broodingly nostalgic for the intensity of friendships I had known at university, itself a time … when I hadn’t so much made friends as I had been made by them.”  He longs for a hint of “the person I used to be”, and surmises that many of his kind are looking to connect with who they once were, or once hoped they’d become“.

As the action unfolds it all becomes very existential.  “Of course there is love and there’s love” – he does expand on that – but even as he makes his moves, “My true purpose isn’t quite clear to me …”  Earlier he has surmised:

… it’s in the nature of my occupation to look for patterns, connections, stories, clear lines of cause and effect. But in fact I believe that most of life, including my own, is really quite random, somewhat plotless, accidental.

But there is a narrative to What I know and its pull is strong.  Paranoid, claustrophobic, repetitive, bleak, thoughtful, painful, insightful, excruciating and thoroughly entertaining, I liked it a lot.




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And not just in the pound-shops and bus stations.  Been nostalgising about a time when we usually had a Dylan quote to hand.  Couple of novels I’m glad to have read lately, set 90 years apart.  Both involve action of a kind in France, but operate mainly in England’s green and pleasant.

Worthless menWorthless men

Andrew Cowan‘s Worthless men (Sceptre, 2013) is an impressive work of other-worldly provincial realism.  Imagine a dark cross between James Joyce’s Ulysses (but with a narrative stream without too many tributaries) and Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood in the daytime.  It’s a diminished market day in a town that might be Norwich – the novel grew out of an oral history project there – and all the action (with added active memories, giving their back stories) takes place over the period from dawn to dusk as seen through the eyes (though not as first person narrative) of five people.  Except one of these, the main man by page count – Walter Barley, a young private, ‘missing in action’ – is hovering around, seemingly unseen, almost spectre-like.  It’s 1916 and there’s a troop train due as the day ends, carrying local lads back from the front in France,  and, mostly, though, the wounded bound for the temporary hospital set up in the grounds of the local industrialist’s big house on the edge of town.  Also family home to Walter’s traumatised and convalescent ex-commanding officer, and he’s no poet (though he is allowed the Catch-22 of, “A desire to return to the war would be the surest evidence they need that I am mentally unstable and not entitled to go“).

It’s a bleak, disturbing and compassionate set of interwoven stories of civilians and soldiery, a skillfully drawn and detailed picture of the way people lived, and the changes the war wrought.  It is beautifully, quietly, written.  There are a lot of what are basically lists – shops, people, occupations, animals – in the description, the sort of thing that usually has me skipping paragraphs, but such is the sustained tone of the writing that they become compellingly vivid; artists like Brueghel the Elder or Stanley Spencer – his biblical Cookham paintings – spring to mind.

That title, Worthless men, we are told in the Acknowledgments, is taken from a specific usage in the title of a non-fiction book looking at the use of the death penalty in the Great War, and the undercurrent of eugenics thinking that fuelled its application.  The notion of war ‘cleansing’ the gene pool is discussed by one of the characters in the novel – a pharmacist enthusiastically selling ‘contra-conceptives’ (sic) to those he considers below him to the same end – but dismissed by another as “almost certainly dysgenic in the degree to which it sacrificed the cream of the race, even as it effected a cull of the worthless.”  Such chilling period detail is integral throughout; relations between the social classes, between men and women within that context, and the changing role of women are un-showily handled to great effect.  There is symbolism – cattle are being slaughtered, there is a deluge as the day draws on, but, corny as that may sound, it works.  The deluge itself potentially sets up a sentimental bravery narrative that just doesn’t happen, and we are not told what happens to the man and woman (both with their own stories) in the rowing boat on the lake.  The climax of a meeting at the train station is a surprise.  Worthless men is a book that haunts, in the best possible sense.  Dead or alive – is there a definitive answer? – Walter is worthy of your company.

Other people's moneyOther people’s money

The bit of France in Justin Cartwright‘s Other people’s money (Bloomsbury, 2011) is a luxury villa on the Med, though the region’s lost its charm since the Russian oligarchs moved in.  Other people’s money tells the tale of the eleventh generation of a respected traditional English banking dynasty, brought down by “the fucking Gaussian bell curve” an economics professor got a Nobel prize for:

In his heart he knew that the Gaussian bell curve was nonsense and he knew that credit swaps and diced mortgages were chimeras, but he did nothing about it because everybody said that there were huge amounts of money to be made. But how? These derivatives related to no assets, to no worth, to no human endeavour. They turned out to be imaginary. It’s almost beyond belief that a huge industry was in thrall to fables.

And that’s the head of the bank’s inner thoughts as he struggles, kind of honourably but short-term criminally, to save something for their clients.  Not the least of the novel’s moral core is the tyranny and psychological damage a successful dynasty wreaks on its heirs.  He never really wanted to be a banker (how he got stuck with it is a story in itself) … and, without giving too much away, in the end he gets his escape.

Other people’s money is shaping up to be a very good old-fashioned upper middle of the road novel – dying patriarch, fiscal calamity, family fallout, corruption in high places – and then we meet Artair McLeod, aging idealistic theatrical fighting the good fight for Celtic culture down in Cornwall, who adds a nother dimension, and becomes a lot more than just the comic relief artsy fantasist.  As well as producing children’s plays for a living, he’s working on his magnum opus, a film script drawing on the works of the Irish novelist Flann O’Brien (as it happens, a writer who has given me much pleasure in the past), in particular his very funny experimental novel  At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) with its double mantra of:

One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with.
There are beginnings and there are ends, and there are also many ways of telling the same story.
[And:] People talk about true stories. As if there could possibly be true stories; events take place one way and we recount them the other.

Part of this obsession is that an author’s characters can take over a work, have a life of their own.  It doesn’t actually happen, and this O’Brien fuelled intervention is much more playful than po-faced postmodernism, but Cartwright serves up a rich (and rich) cast characters, the main players given their say, and though the ending is contingent (and unexpected) it could have gone any way, which is the point, I guess.

When Artair’s regular stipend fails to arrive – a footnote of a casualty to the bank’s crisis, a regular pay-off from his ex-wife, now long married to the dying patriarch  – an old school editor of a local paper, whose Fleet Street career had been spiked by the Robert Maxwell scandal, gets a whiff of something big and pursues it with rookie journalist and blogger Melissa, fresh out of uni with a joint Philosophy/Sociology degree the content from which still amusingly (for us) peppers her world view.  His scoop is scuppered by an outrageous corporate move, but it all plays a part in the ongoing saga. This is a depressingly believable and entertaining zeitgeist satire, and the fun in the telling cannot dispel the anger inherent in the book’s title.  There’s a lovely little twist at the end too.

I zipped through Other people’s moneyJustin Cartwright’s prose flows beautifully; he writes with a good eye and has a neat turn of phrase.  Indeed, I feel the need to share some of his goodies.  So when the old man, Sir Harry Trevelyan-Tubal, is in a posh London hospital for tests, Cartwright acknowledges “… the front steps where nurses in their dress uniform sometimes assemble to wave goodbye to recovered members of the royal family”, and there’s the Portuguese cook whose “English, like her cooking, is low in calories.”  Meanwhile there’s the faithful Estelle, the old man’s lovelorn lifelong secretary, who “arrives with piles of paper, enveloped in by her old-lady microclimate,” while elsewhere Artair is complaining, “Until your cheque arrived, I had been living on pasties. I am not complaining, but the life of a serious artist is not easy.”

And then there’s Melissa, now a successful journo in London, and her valediction for her old boss:

        Melissa remembers Mr Tredizzick’s speech, which mentioned Tom Paine and the rights of man: ‘Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.’ Poor Mr Tredizzick. He was fighting a different battle for a different England, an England that no longer exists – if it ever had. Nobody now thinks about reaping the blessings of freedom; instead they hope to win the Lottery or become celebrities.
There are, anyway, different kinds of freedom. (Isaiah Berlin, philosophy, module 12.)

I shall probably be re-visiting At Swim-Two-Birds sometime soon.

Words and music

Aortas AmericaScribal Apr 2015Vaultage aprSunday, Tuesday, Thursday – Aortas at the Old George, Scribal, Vaultage – it becomes a bit of a blur.  It’s all good.  The Aortas pic actually celebrates the previous shindig but you get the gist.  Congrats to Pat for getting his photo-record up so soon (though the tell the truth he hasn’t got much else to do, so I’m not getting at Dan).  At Vaultage someone new blessed with the name Tim Buckley (no relation) impressed with a hatefully funny divorce song and an anthem in praise of Cuba.  Including the featured poet there were remarkably 18 performers in the course of the evening, including at least 3 previously featured artists in the open mic.  Someone called Eric did Misty with an electric banjo.

Leanne Moden - LiaisonsLeanne Moden , ex-Poet Laureate of the Fens, was a delight.  Diminutive in stature but huge in presence and a charm not without the odd barb, she wove spells both sacred and profane.  For the former her incantatory Brixton 2013 was an act of communion, private validation – her and her mate Clare at a gig – as glorious testament to the importance of music in our lives.  Then there was the passionate defence of her unweeded lady garden that is Shaving grace.  And many other joys.  Here’s a link to her blog: http://tenyearstime.blogspot.co.uk/p/about.html ; click on the media tag for a view of her in performance.  She has a slim volume (which includes other gems like the wonderfully titled Kubla Khan’s Bar and Grill) published by Stewed Rhubarb.  I can’t abide rhubarb in any shape or form but I do like the cut of their jib – “fuelled by ginger wine and late nights” – with a cute invitation to ‘befriend’ them on FaceBook.

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